As we near the end of pastoral appreciation month I have found myself looking back over the last thirty years of ministry. I have been blessed to serve three churches as Senior Pastor before assuming the responsibilities of a Presiding Bishop, a role that I have been serving in for fourteen years. I still feel like I am a pastor at heart.
This is certainly not an exhaustive list of everything I’ve learned, but I think you will get the idea:
I have learned that I don’t have all the answers. It seems inherent with the work, you are often called upon to answer the most troubling questions of life…some that don’t have clear answers. So, I have learned that sometimes you don’t have to say anything…just be there.
I have learned that I am not always right, and I have learned that others are not always right either. Our perception of things may not always be reality and we must never make decisions without as much information as possible. Often, that information doesn’t come until long after we have to make a decision. But if you made the best decision you could, with all the information possible, you cannot beat yourself up.
I have learned that I am someone uniquely chosen by God. Yes, like everyone else, God knew my name while I was in my mother’s womb and He had a purpose. I also know that while He knows me uniquely, He knows others too. We are all part of this big puzzle called life. Each piece of the puzzle (you and me) have a place to fit in the big picture.
I have learned that because I am uniquely chosen, I am NOT a carbon copy of anyone else. While there are ministers whom I admire and have great respect for, I am NOT them…God never intended me to be. That’s why I am me and you are you. There are people that you touch but I never will; but there are people I touch that no one else can.
I have learned that I REFUSE to let anyone label me. Labels are relative…they are based on presumption and often prejudice. I was in a meeting once that was volatile. By the end of the meeting, someone said “he is a liberal,” and another person said, “he is too conservative.” See what I mean? It’s all from their vantage point and not yours. Be honest and let the Lord decide about you…after all, He is the ONLY One whose opinion really matters in the end.
I have learned that I cannot take anyone else’s anointing. While we all borrow thoughts, illustrations and maybe even outlines of sermons, you MUST NEVER take someone else’s sermons or lessons and fail to cite that author and give credit. I have watched sadly in the last few years that while pastors are preaching wonderful sermons, they tell a story or make a unique statement that catches people’s attention in the congregation. In the internet age, people in the congregation think: “That’s a great thought,” and they they take their smart phones or iPad’s and “google” it…only to find out that the sermon/lesson they are hearing came word for word from someone else. What makes a bad situation worse is when they claim, “God gave me this while praying.”
I have learned that holiness is not an arcane doctrine taught by the reformers and those of the turn of the twentieth century. I have learned that it is a way of life. While it is not something identified by clothing, length of hair, etc., what is on the inside of you will come out. If your heart is right with God, you will have clean hands. If not, well..that’s an easy one to figure out.
I have learned that God cannot bless a closed hand. If you don’t give, you can’t expect to receive. People don’t really care how well you preach, how well you dress, how organized you are if you don’t genuinely care for them. Selfishness is unbecoming a minister of the Gospel.
I have learned that you may speak in tongues all day long…but if you don’t demonstrate the Fruit of the Spirit in your life, your experience is questionable.
Again, this is not an exhaustive list, but only a few things I’ve learned along the way. There were other lessons…some came easy, others through turmoil, but either way, they were lessons learned. Yet, the most important lesson I have learned is this. Love people no matter how they act, how they treat you or what they say about you.
From time-to-time, people will attack you and you will want to push back when you are mistreated, slandered and lied about, but, you know the truth about yourself, and at the end of the day, it is your reflection you will see in the mirror…you MUST feel good about what you see.
If when your life is over, people can justly say about you, “this pastor was fair and honest,” you will have done well.